It’s the time of the summer when the store aisles are stocked to the brim with multicolored folders, patterned pencil cases, and Post-its galore. While shopping for lined paper and an excessive number of highlighters may have been exciting when we were 12, the hard truth is that we aren't kids anymore. In other words, there’s a new back-to-school shopping list we should be checking off now that we're "adults" (whatever that means) and in college. This list is a bit cooler, and the essentials are bit different than the ones typically advertised on giant cardboard signs, but trust me when I say that, student or not, the selection ahead is one you need in your life stat.
In order to get the most accurate list of essentials as possible, I went straight to the source and asked Gen-Z college students themselves—specifically, New York Gen-Z college students. Since New Yorkers are known for seamlessly navigating through the hustle and bustle of the city, I figured they would know exactly what to wear to look great while feeling comfortable enough to make it through an 8 a.m. lecture, straight into their internship, and all through a fun college night.
For these students, having Manhattan as their campus means they don’t have the "typical" college experience, but it means their essentials are all kinds of necessary, versatile, and effortlessly cool, because NYC is a major fashion capital, after all. So what is exactly is in their back to school carts for the fall? You’re about to find out. Whether you’re heading back to campus in a few weeks, or you simply want to know what Gen Zers are into these days, you’d be crazy not to scroll and shop these picks ahead (including a few of my own).
“There's nothing worse than that dreaded 9 a.m. after a long night out. To save time in the morning, I throw on a big pair of statement glasses to hide my dark circles. Statement glasses are such an easy way to elevate any outfit and are such a time saver in my morning routine.”
“Everyone knows public transportation can be unreliable, and sometimes if the subways aren't running, I'm forced to walk more than 20 blocks to school. I need a comfortable shoe that won't compromise my outfit. These booties have gotten me through seven countries with no blisters, and they're still going strong. The pointed toe looks great with flare jeans, denim cut-offs, silk skirts—pretty much everything. They're by far my favorite boots I've ever owned.”
“I am always trying to reduce my waste, so my number one tip for anyone going to school in a city is to always carry a reusable canvas tote. They can fit in any purse or backpack and are so helpful when you need to go grocery shopping after class or take a quick shopping break at lunch.”
“I'm someone who struggles with ADHD, and with that comes forgetting things—a lot. I need everything that I have to do kept in one place. I find that using a planner keeps me organized and on top of my deadlines. As soon as I get an assignmentl,I jot it down. Otherwise it will go in one ear and out the other.”
“Blazers are kind of my thing. I think I own like 10 in all different colors, patterns, and sizes. I think every college student should own at least two to three blazers. You can wear them to interviews, but you can also wear them to class with a graphic tee, jeans, and sneakers. I also wear them out with just a bralette underneath, and it’s so chic. Bottom line, blazers are so functional, and everyone should have one.”
“I am currently obsessed with bucket hats. They are so effortlessly cool and can help hide any bad hair day. Hats are also perfect for class because you can now have time to grab coffee instead of spending time doing your hair, and you will still look put together.”
“One of my friends recently said, ‘If you live in New York City and you don’t carry around a tote bag, what are you doing?’ I think tote bags are one of the most functional items any New Yorker or student can own. I love this Opening Ceremony bag because its mesh, not your typical canvas material. Also, I can take it to class, to shoots, and even to the grocery store. At the end of the day, it’s worth investing money in a good tote bag as a student.”
“My go-to makeup routine for class is foundation, mascara, blush, and a gloss. It’s the perfect mix of she tried, but not too hard. This gloss is perfect for class because it makes me feel put together, but it’s not too bold and won’t rub off like lipstick. Plus, I’m obsessed with the glossy trend right now.”
“I haven’t picked this one up yet, but I’ve been eyeing it for about a year now. It’s a high-quality basic that comes in all your classic neutral colorways and is perfect everyday wear. It’s a bit pricey, but I’ve always believed in investing in daily wear!”
“Vintage tees have become so trendy this summer, which inspired me to stock up on the perfect ones. The vintage tees that Urban sells have the perfect oversize fit. I also think that a vintage tee under a blazer for working/interning could make for a fun business casual look.”
“Leather jackets never go out of season—especially in New York. Going to school in New York can sometimes be challenging considering the weather is cold nine months out of the year. AllSaints is famous for its leather jackets. It's definitely an investment, but will 100% be worn with every outfit I have in my closet.”
“Being a PR intern in fashion makes me a very busy person, especially during the school year. Vans have always been my go-to sneakers when it comes to literally anything in life. Whether I'm at my internship or school, my Vans are my everyday sneakers (which is why I need a new pair ASAP.)”
“My outfits are usually all black with a pop of color using some kind of accessory. With that being said, my phone is on me 24/7 and always has a case on it. The neon green leopard-print iPhone case I just recently bought is my favorite case yet because I'm able to express myself in such a small way. Whenever I wear an all-black outfit, my case stands out and shows that I can (sometimes) be fun!”
“Combat boots have always been a personal necessity, and it’s about time I (and you too!) hop onto the Dr. Marten train. Whether it’s rain, dirt, snow, or good ol’ NYC muck, a pair of tough boots will protect you from anything. Not to mention they make your outfit look 10 times cooler.”
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my school outfits include a utility jacket. It’s the perfect summer-to-fall transitional piece, and not to mention, it just goes with everything and keeps you cozy. I’ve found some of my favorite ones at vintage stores, but I’m really eyeing this Topshop one for a more neutral and polished vibe.”
“Trying to not look like the undead at 8 a.m. is a battle. Although this concealer doesn’t give extreme coverage—it adds the perfect touch of brightness and life to my face when I don’t want to wear anything else. Also it's super easy to apply on a moving train, which is what I end up doing 90% of the time.”
“Workout leggings aren’t just for the gym, you can trust me on that. They’re easy to wear with oversize T-shirts for the perfect athleisure fit. I’ve been trying to find a pair that hits the perfect length, and I think this JoyLab pair is the one. Its collections include different patterns and colorways, and not to mention an affordable price tag.”
“When you go to school in the city, sneakers are a must. It is the only way I can get from class to work and then finally home after a long day of studying. A fashionable pair of sneakers is a must, and the falcons have a versatile design that'll go with any look.”